Friday, May 25

A pre-European aboriginal settlement in Weston

In 1937, Frederick David Cruikshank and Joseph Nason published their "History of Weston" in which the authors gave short shrift to the place's aboriginal inhabitants. On page 2 of the first chapter (The Beginnings) they wrote:

"The Humber in this district was a favourite haunt of the Ojibway tribes and it is said that they visited the old hunting ground as late as 1841. There were at least two Indian burial places close to Weston, one just south of the village and the other about a mile to the north. In 1825, John Paul, the well-known cooper at The Humber, saw the internment of an Indian warrior and his accoutrements."

I was curious about that burial place "just south of the village". The context is clearly the original village of Farr's Mills which was on the flood plain of the Etobicoke side of the Humber river, roughly where the Weston Golf and Country Club is now. Just south of there is St. Philip's Anglican Church with its small cemetery. Further south still is Riverside Cemetery in the Humber Heights community, which I have argued strongly (nine months ago) is historically part of the greater Weston community. Could either of these two cemeteries have commingled with an earlier native burial site?

I don't know. But if we take Cruikshank and Nason at their word, there was an aboriginal burial place in this area and one doesn't have a burial place without an accompanying settlement. So, what evidence is there for a native settlement in Humber Heights? The Royal Ontario Museum has a number of native artifacts "from the Weston area". It is likely phrased that way because they weren't actually found within Weston, as the town came to be incorporated strictly on the east side of the river. Rather, they were from near there. There are records of an A.M. Kennedy, Esq., of Weston, having gifted a large number of native artifacts to the museum in 1914 and at least one of these came from a site "north of Weston" so I can't assume that any of his artifacts might have come from Humber Heights. In fact, I think it likely that all of Kennedy's finds might have come from a known Iroquois settlement north of Weston.

There does exist a record of a Weston archaeological site which was supposed to be a native "village", as "confirmed through surface sample and comments of local inhabitants" (Victor Konrad, 1972). Strangely, Konrad placed this site at the Humber Place apartments, in Weston, not in Humber Heights across the river. The Humber Place apartments were built in 1969, so Konrad was unable to carry out his own survey. If that was the case, how did he get a surface sample? He didn't. Apparently Victor Konrad learned of the site from a "Father Meighan" (from Upper Canada College). Father Meighan's name is attached to a number of Toronto area archaeological sites surveyed in 1950. It's possible that Humber Heights was one of those and that he is the one that did the surface sampling and talking to the locals. Konrad simply passed on that information. There is more. Konrad gave the site's location:

Cultural Matrix: 3-6 acres
Latitude: 434150
Longitude: 793140
Easting: 1930
Northing: 3925

Clearly Konrad did not come up with these numbers on his own as they place the village in Humber Heights. He must have transcribed them from Father Meighan's report! But if Meighan noted the location in Humber Heights, how (and why) did Konrad end up at the Humber Place apartments? It's a bit of a headscratcher. One possibility is that Meighan referred to the locale as "Weston" and a confused Konrad, aware only that the town of Weston had in 1967 been absorbed into the Borough of York, simply assumed (without referring to the site coordinates) that Meighan had meant the site to be east of the river and thus described it as so being there ("east of present arena").

There is a way to confirm or refute this hypothesis: Find Father Meighan's report on the site! Unfortunately this may not be possible. Apart from Father Meighan's name being associated with some Toronto archaeological surveys, I have been unable so far to find him in any other context. I haven't even been able to figure out his first name. And as this man has seemingly vanished from the face of history, so too has his report.

Nowadays, most folk peripherally acquainted with the matter will attest to the aboriginal "village" archaeological site as being at the Humber Place apartments and cite the nearby (less than 200 meters away on the other side of the Toronto Community Housing high-rise on Bellevue Crescent) "Weston bones" archaeological site as a native burial ground for it.

I must remind these people that the fourteen-or-so skeletons dug up there in 1911 constitute a site of unknown date and culture. The Toronto Historical Association suggests that they "may be French, since Indians rarely buried their dead in high-traffic areas" (Weston Road, the Carrying-Place trail, is 60 meters away). They could just as easily be English "who fought in the rebellion of 1837 or the war of 1812", as one Westonian suggested in a newspaper report at the time. We do know that Dr. Rowland B. Orr (Superintendent of the Provincial Museum), who visited that site more than three days after the bones had already been dug up with many of the skulls — by then — pilfered, almost certainly mischaracterized the skeletons to be "Indians" based on a supposed "arrangement" of the bones that is directly contradicted by eyewitness testimony.

Significantly perhaps, in the 1911 newspaper articles none of the Westonian gossip was to the effect of there having once been an Indian village close by!

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